All states are getting fatter

Md. 25th heaviest, Miss. 1st in survey

August 28, 2007|By Thomas H. Maugh II | Thomas H. Maugh II,LOS ANGELES TIMES

For the third year in a row, Mississippi is the fattest state in the country and Colorado the leanest, but the obesity rate is increasing in all states, according to a report released yesterday.

This year, Mississippi became the first state to have more than 30 percent of its residents classified as obese, but 47 states are above 20 percent, including Maryland. Just 15 years ago, no state was above 15 percent, according to officials from the Trust for America's Health, which prepared the report using federal statistics obtained through telephone interviews.

Maryland ranked 25th heaviest in the nationwide survey with 24.4 percent of its residents classified as obese. In 2006, Maryland had adult obesity rates of 23.4 percent, ranking it the 24th heaviest in the nation. So the rate of obesity rose, even as the state's ranking fell a notch.

For the first time, the annual report included state-by-state figures on childhood obesity, showing that Washington, D.C., was first with 22.8 percent of its children overweight and Utah was last with 8.5 percent.

The report is "a devastating indictment," said Jim Marks, a senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which sponsored the study. "The nation is in the middle of a public health crisis that is deteriorating rapidly, and we are treating it like an inconvenience."

Marks found the data for youth particularly discouraging.

"These children could be the first generation to live sicker and die younger than their parents," he said.

The report categorized subjects using body mass index, or BMI, which is a ratio of weight and height. It defined overweight as having a BMI between 25 and 30, and obese as a BMI over 30. An person who is 6 feet tall and weighs 230 pounds, for example, has a BMI of 31.

The incidence of obesity increased in 31 states in 2006, and no state experienced a decrease, said Jeff Levi, executive director of the trust.

Ten of the 15 states with the highest rates of obesity among adults were in the South, as were eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of overweight youth.

That is crucial, Levi said, because the region also has the highest rates of Type 2 diabetes and hypertension, both of which are linked to obesity.

Obesity costs $117 billion per year in preventable health-care expenditures and "is pushing the health-care system to the breaking point," Marks said.

Presidential candidates are talking about universal health-care plans, Levi added, but unless the obesity rate is brought under control, "No plan is going to be affordable."

Some experts think the estimates in the report are conservative because people are underreporting their weight in surveys. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last year - based on weighing subjects - that found a nationwide obesity rate of 32 percent, higher than that for any state in the new rankings.

Thomas Maugh II writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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